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North Dakota Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, testifies in favor of his proposal to alter the process for enacting constitutional amendments at the state Capitol Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. John Hageman / Forum News Service

North Dakota House votes to allow legislative input on constitutional amendments

BISMARCK — North Dakota House lawmakers voted to allow the Legislature to weigh in on constitutional amendments passed by voters Thursday, April 11, putting the proposal one step closer to the 2020 ballot.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 4001 requires constitutional amendments that voters propose by petition and approve at the ballot box to be considered by the Legislature before being enacted. If lawmakers turn down the proposal, it goes back on the ballot and voters would have the opportunity to override the Legislature.

The resolution also mandates that constitutional amendments initiated by voters only be placed on the general election ballot.

The House approved the resolution in a 63-30 vote. It seeks to amend the constitution and would require voter approval in 2020.

The resolution's chief sponsor, Minot Republican Sen. David Hogue, said he hoped his chamber would concur with House tweaks and send the question to voters. Unlike bills, resolutions don't go to the governor for approval.

Supporters said changing the state's constitution should require more deliberation and warned the document was vulnerable to well-funded outside interests that could gather signatures to put a measure on the ballot.

"This resolution guarantees the public forum for debate to consider changing our core document, our constitution," said Minot Republican Rep. Scott Louser, who noted the resolution doesn't affect voters' ability to amend state law or overturn laws passed by the Legislature.

But critics have said the proposal would impede voters' ability to assert their will. Rep. Mary Schneider, D-Fargo, said it could be seen as "retaliation" for the ethics measure voters approved last year.

"I think what we have is working just fine," said Fargo Democratic Rep. Pam Anderson.

The resolution House lawmakers approved Thursday marked just one proposal floated during the 2019 session seeking to make it harder to change the constitution.

The House unanimously rejected a proposal requiring a 60% vote of the people to pass constitutional amendments, doubling the number of signatures required to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot and pushing up the deadline for submitting petitions.

But another similar resolution is still alive in the Senate. It would require a 60% vote of the people to pass initiated constitutional amendments.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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